WASHINGTON – The Pentagon has determined that its procedures failed to prevent the fake drone strike that killed 10 people in Kabul in August during the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
But the strike broke no laws, said Air Force Lieutenant General Sami Said, the service’s inspector general who led the Pentagon’s investigation. He described the tragedy as “an honest mistake”.
No single person was responsible for the flawed decisions that led to the air strike, Said said. His report, which is kept secret, has been passed on to commanders who have the authority to discipline those involved, including firing some of them. The officials who approved the attack, which was located at a military base in Qatar, believed they were “targeted at an imminent threat,” Said said.
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“The assessment, which was primarily driven by interpretation of intelligence and observed movements of the vehicle and passengers over an 8-hour period, was unfortunately inaccurate,” according to a summary of the report. “In fact, the vehicle, its passengers and contents posed no risk to U.S. forces.”
Ten people, including seven children, died in the attack of a Hellfire missile fired by a Reaper drone on August 29. The missile attack came days after terrorists from a self-proclaimed Islamic State alliance called ISIS-K killed 13 US troops and 170 Afghan civilians outside Hamid Karzai International Airport.
Military officials initially announced that the attack had killed at least one suspected ISIS-K suicide bomber and no civilians. Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called the attack “fair.” But reports from the site from news media, including The New York Times, showed that civilians, not terrorists, had been killed.
The tragic mistake underscores the danger of the Pentagon’s approach to counter-terrorism when no US troops or close allies are on hand to identify legitimate targets. Military officials refer to the long-range attacks as “over the horizon”, meaning the attacks are informed by spy planes, satellites and intercepted communications.
Said said, however, that the counterfeit attack was unlike other “over the horizon” attacks because it was launched relatively quickly and in perceived self-defense. Other counter-terrorism attacks have far more time to examine evidence before attacking, Said said.
Investigators interviewed 29 people, 22 of whom were directly involved in the strike, Said said.
The report advises those involved in developing targets and ordering strikes to implement procedures to mitigate confirmation bias, better share information and assess the presence of civilians.
The Pentagon has investigated ways to compensate family members for the victims.
Hundreds of civilians have been killed in U.S. airstrikes in recent years from Africa to Afghanistan, according to Pentagon figures. The Pentagon paid out $ 259,899 during the 2020 fiscal year and $ 858,240 in 2019 to compensate families for those killed, according to the Department of Defense.